Lebanese soldiers receive bank heist training after string of robberies

Lebanese Army spokesperson Georges Khoury said that the training exercises had “no relation to any recent actions in banks.” (AFP/File)
Lebanese Army spokesperson Georges Khoury said that the training exercises had “no relation to any recent actions in banks.” (AFP/File)
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Updated 11 November 2022

Lebanese soldiers receive bank heist training after string of robberies

Lebanese soldiers receive bank heist training after string of robberies
  • Video of simulated holdup was posted on official Twitter account

LONDON: The Lebanese Army has conducted training to prepare for bank robberies and hostage scenarios following a series of incidents in which depositors stormed banks to demand their frozen savings.

A video of the training, posted earlier this week on the official Lebanese Army Twitter account, shows a group of soldiers recreating a “security incident” at a bank branch.

The purpose of the exercise was to simulate “dealing with a security incident inside a bank and arresting the perpetrators,” the post said.

US and British trainers assisted with the exercise, the army said in the tweet.

The news was confirmed later on Wednesday by authorities. In a statement, officials said: “Units carried out exercises that mimicked arresting terrorists after they forcibly entered a number of banks in the context of a terrorist plot … with the aim of misleading security forces.”

The video shows a group of six soldiers brandishing assault rifles while detaining a man outside a building.

 

 

The training came as part of the Special Operations Forces Exhibition, a defense industry event held every two years in Jordan.

The video of the training exercise has triggered intense debate among the Lebanese public.

“They are trying to scare the depositors, to make them think twice. The army is not responsible for such things, it’s the police’s job to go inside. The (army) is being given special orders,” Dina Abu Zour, a lawyer from the Depositor’s Union, said.

Lebanese Army spokesperson Georges Khoury said that the training exercises had “no relation to any recent actions in banks.”

He added: “This was just a training activity, training for special forces against any terrorist activity, like kidnappings, for example.”

Over the last few years, Lebanon has experienced a deep economic crisis, with the currency plummeting against the US dollar, causing many people’s savings to plunge in value.

As a result, most Lebanese are unable to access their bank savings due to capital controls.

In recent months, more than a dozen depositors, some of whom were armed, have held up banks, although only a few have faced charges, with authorities avoiding heavy penalties over fears of a widespread backlash.

The government, however, has adopted a harsher tone as the phenomenon of bank raids has continued.


Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly

Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly
Updated 30 January 2023

Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly

Nigerian artist uses AI to re-imagine life for the elderly

LAGOS: A Nigerian artist is using artificial intelligence to re-imagine life for African elderly people by showcasing near real-life pictures and videos of them walking down the fashion ramp and on the beach.
Malik Afegbua, who is also a film maker, said because many elderly people were marginalized in society, especially in the fashion world, he began to imagine how they would look if they were models.
Afegbua started posting some of his work on social media and it went viral.
He came up with “Elders Series,” a catalogue of pictures and videos showing white-haired women and bearded men strutting the runway for a virtual fashion show in Afrocentric attire, including ornamental neck and arm bands.
“So I wanted to ... imagine the elderly people in a place that is not either in a sad space or in a suppressed state,” Afegbua told Reuters.
“However, when I was making it, I kind of knew there was something there. I was like this is dope. I’m loving what I’m seeing.”
Afegbua was not always an artist. He studied business in university but stepped into the world of filming after a friend bought him a camera in 2011.
He said the idea to explore a different world for old people came when his elderly mother fell ill. Using an artificial intelligence app, he started creating content showing a brighter side of old age.


Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
Updated 28 January 2023

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges

Laughing emoji found defamatory by Italy’s top judges
  • The defendant was made to pay the claimant over $2,000 in compensation

LONDON: A laughing emoji at the end of a Facebook comment amounted to defamation, Italy’s supreme court has ruled.

The country’s top judges sent a case back to court for the offense to be reassessed.

Phrases mocking a person’s physical disability, when combined with laughing face emojis, amounted to defamation, the supreme court judges said.

The court reconsidered a dispute that started on Facebook in the northern town of Luino, The Times reported.

A user openly criticized the poor eyesight of another person in a chat, ending his statement with several laughing emojis.

The defendant was convicted of defamation by a court in Varese, northern Italy, fined about $870 and ordered to pay around $2,175 in compensation to the claimant, a local businessman.

The verdict was then overturned by an appeal court in Milan, which ruled that the online conflict amounted to the use of insulting language, but did not constitute a crime.

However, the supreme court in Italy eventually ruled that the phrases, punctuated with the emojis, amounted to defamation, sending the case back for reassessment of the offense.

The defendant’s lawyers, during the earlier appeal hearing, argued that “a sight deficit doesn’t diminish the value of a person,” highlighting that their client had merely “shown himself in a bad light.”

After further studying the legal distinction between an insult and defamation, the supreme court deemed the Facebook exchange defamatory.

Francesco Micozzi, a lawyer and professor at Perugia University, said the use of the emoji in this case emphasized the defendant’s intended mockery.

The use of emojis in online correspondence is becoming increasingly subject to legal analysis. A US study revealed that emojis had been cited in court about 50 times a year between 2004 and 2019.


Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
Updated 28 January 2023

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain

Iran’s ambassador to Madrid avoids shaking hands with Queen Letizia of Spain
  • Instead, Ghashghavi placed his hand on his chest and bowed slightly

LONDON: Iranian Ambassador to Spain Hassan Ghashghavi refrained from shaking hands with Queen Letizia during a reception on Wednesday for Madrid’s diplomatic corps at Zarzuela Palace.

In footage shared on Twitter, Ghashghavi shook hands with King Felipe VI but not Queen Letizia, who was standing beside him.

Royal fans, according to The Daily Mail, believe the Iranian ambassador’s gesture to be “disrespectful” and “awkward.”

Social media commentators, however, highlighted that his placing his right hand on his chest and slightly bowing to the queen instead showed he was following Iranian customs.

Others speculated that the queen’s lack of movement toward the Iranian diplomat suggested that she had been advised by her staff about her guest’s protocol.

In several Islamic cultures, physical contact with the opposite sex, including handshakes, is often discouraged or even prohibited.


US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
Updated 25 January 2023

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027

US to test nuclear-powered spacecraft by 2027
  • A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say

WASHINGTON: The United States plans to test a spacecraft engine powered by nuclear fission by 2027 as part of a long-term NASA effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of propelling astronauts to Mars in the future, the space agency’s chief said on Tuesday.
NASA will partner with the US military’s research and development agency, DARPA, to develop a nuclear thermal propulsion engine and launch it to space “as soon as 2027,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said during a conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The US space agency has studied for decades the concept of nuclear thermal propulsion, which introduces heat from a nuclear fission reactor to a hydrogen propellant in order to provide a thrust believed to be far more efficient than traditional chemical-based rocket engines.
NASA officials view nuclear thermal propulsion as crucial for sending humans beyond the moon and deeper into space. A trip to Mars from Earth using the technology could take roughly four months instead of some nine months with a conventional, chemically powered engine, engineers say.
That would substantially reduce the time astronauts would be exposed to deep-space radiation and would also require fewer supplies, such as food and other cargo, during a trip to Mars.
“If we have swifter trips for humans, they are safer trips,” NASA deputy administrator and former astronaut Pam Melroy said Tuesday.
The planned 2027 demonstration, part of an existing DARPA research program that NASA is now joining, could also inform the ambitions of the US Space Force, which has envisioned deploying nuclear reactor-powered spacecraft capable of moving other satellites orbiting near the moon, DARPA and NASA officials said.
DARPA in 2021 awarded funds to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin to study designs of nuclear reactors and spacecraft. By around March, the agency will pick a company to build the nuclear spacecraft for the 2027 demonstration, the program’s manager Tabitha Dodson said in an interview.
The joint NASA-DARPA effort’s budget is $110 million for fiscal year 2023 and is expected to be hundreds of millions of dollars more through 2027.

 


New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
Updated 27 January 2023

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense

New Zealand’s next PM known for his candour, diet, and poor dress sense
  • He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education

WELLINGTON: New Zealand's next prime minister does not draw adoring crowds like his predecessor Jacinda Ardern, but is well known throughout the country for his political nous, poor dress sense and a love of diet Coke.
Chris Hipkins, 44, was on Wednesday morning officially sworn in to replace Ardern, his friend of more than 20 years, who resigned because she no longer had "enough in the tank".
The straight-talking Hipkins was the architect of New Zealand's Covid-19 response, and is widely seen as a personable politician with a safe pair of hands.
"Hopefully New Zealanders know me as someone who is upfront, doesn't mind admitting when they've made a mistake and can laugh at themselves," he told reporters after being touted for the role last week.
Hipkins has somewhat mellowed since his early days as a firebrand of student politics.
He was arrested and strip-searched in the late 1990s while protesting proposed reforms to university education.
Political commentator Josie Pagani has described Hipkins, with more than 14 years in opposition and government, as "sensible, likeable, tough and capable".
He will now be tasked with turning around the sagging popularity of Ardern's Labour government, which has been hampered by a looming recession and a resurgent conservative opposition.
Hipkins won plaudits for his near two-year term as the Covid response minister in a country that shut its borders to keep the coronavirus out, only fully reopening to the outside world in August last year.
Hailing from the working class Hutt Valley in New Zealand's North Island, Hipkins has held high-profile portfolios including police and education.
"I think I am relatively upfront, I'm relatively inclusive. People won't die wondering what I think," he has said.
"My parents came from relatively humble beginnings and worked really hard to provide a good life for my brother and I."
His diet has drawn the attention of his colleagues, with a former boss once remarking that Hipkins "appears to eat nothing more than sausage rolls and diet Coke".
Justice Minister Kiri Allan, one of Labour's senior Maori MPs, who had been considered a potential prime minister herself, has described Hipkins as decisive and an "incredibly strong" leader.
"He is extremely competent, with a track record of delivering for New Zealand as one of our most senior ministers over the past six years," she said.
Hipkins told journalists he liked cycling, gardening, DIY work and being outdoors, but conceded: "Maybe I don't have the best fashion sense in parliament."
Asked whether having a red-haired prime minister would be a historic moment for the country, he said: "I think it was about time we had a ginger at the top."
The incoming New Zealand leader studied politics and criminology at Victoria University in the capital Wellington and then worked in the industry training sector.
Before becoming an MP in 2008, he worked as a senior adviser to two education ministers and former prime minister Helen Clark.
Although known as a personable and laid-back operator, Hipkins is also capable of playing hard-nosed politics -- and was involved in some high-profile spats with Australia's former conservative government.
In 2021, he accused Australia of "exporting its garbage" to New Zealand -- a reference to Canberra's controversial policy of deporting criminals back to their country of birth.
Hipkins was admonished by Ardern in 2017 after he was accused of orchestrating the resignation of Australia's then-deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce.
Information released to Hipkins showed Joyce was a dual citizen of both Australia and New Zealand -- which disqualified him from sitting in parliament under Australia's constitution.